At each monthly meeting of the local garden club, a raffle is held. For one dollar, members can win something — usually a plant — donated by another club member.
In the past, I’ve won a sturdy plastic hand rake, a sprouting Everglades tomato plant, and an orchid — small items that don’t take up a lot of space in the shed or garden.
Mostly, though, purchasing a raffle at the meeting is a chance to support the club.
Club raffles are an interesting beast — or rather, the club members themselves are. Some members like to stack the basket and so they purchase five to ten dollars worth of tickets. Others, like me, are more conservative — just a dollar and a dream.
The thing is, I’ve never dreamed of winning a tree — especially this tree — and yet, here I am with the winning ticket and my new tree.
Officially, it’s called plumeria tree, but most people refer to it as frangipani — and I’m so glad they do. I plan on getting a lot of mileage from a tree with a name that sounds more human than botanical.
Kind of like, “Nobody makes a lasagna like your Aunt Fran Gipani from Brooklyn.”
All kidding aside, though, I first noticed the tree in the yards of several neighbors. How could it not be noticed? Big oval leaves and clusters of flowers in shades of pink, red, yellow, and white — and sometimes in blushing combinations of these colors.
Yes, frangipani, much like Aunt Fran Gipani when she was in her prime, made all the boys in the neighborhood say, “How you doin’?”
As I observed the neighbors’ trees, though, I also noticed that frangipani has a cycle that’s more northern than tropical.
And therein lies the crux of my frangipani quandary. When I left New York for Florida, I thought my raking days and snow shoveling days were behind me.
While it has yet to snow in any measurable amount in zone 10, leaves apparently fall. The greatest culprits are trees such as mahogany and jacaranda an the one across the canal from my backyard (pictured below), which are briefly deciduous. These are trees that, in a matter of weeks in the spring, shed their leaves, remain barren, and then re-bloom.
These were the trees I told myself to avoid. Raking was not going to be on my list of Florida gardening chores.
Enter frangipani, a tree that is much more deciduous than briefly. As the weather cools — yes, weather does cool in south Florida — frangipani drops its leaves. With the approach of spring, leaves and flowers emerge — so much so that it’s sad, sad winter state is easy to forget, easy to overlook.
And so here I am with my raffle prize, which was propagated from the tree of another garden club member. She simply cut branches from her own tree, which is filled with a milky sap, and allowed the cut end to skin over. She then placed the cuttings in dirt, where they easily rooted.
As I stare at my little tree, I’m considering the small cluster of leaves at the crown, the ones that will — at some point — fall to the ground. I don’t think I’ll need to rake them. They’re large enough to pick up by hand, like a game of 52-Pick Up, Aunt Fran Gipani’s favorite card game.
“The kid falls for it every time,” I can hear her say after rapidly flicking the cards across the living room floor.
I’m also thinking of the clusters of night-fragrant flowers, the essential oils of which are often used in perfumes and lotions. They’re also used in Hawaiian leis. I’ll have to keep the tree pruned so the blossoms aren’t too far from my nose.
Even before a flower has appeared, I feel myself falling for this little tree, more quickly than it can drop a single leaf. Yes, frangipani, much like Aunt Fran Gipani, barged into my life and pinched both of my cheeks — with gusto.